50 Years Later, Life Lesson Learned: Every Moment Makes A Difference

By Kim Reischling

Each year, the United States celebrates National Volunteer Week to recognize the contributions of our volunteers. This year the celebration takes place April 21-27. The theme is “Something for Everyone.”

Later in life, I’ve become a huge advocate of volunteerism. Before becoming a volunteer with the Palmetto Literacy Council in June of 2023, my last experience was as a 16-year-old “candy striper” at a retirement home. I loved volunteering there, and 50 years later (I’m dating myself!) I still remember some of the residents. 

There was Mr. Leach who taught me how to play Chinese checkers, and that gentleman, in his late 80s, always won! There was Mrs. Schneider, elegant, with her hair in an impeccable bun, using a beautifully decorated cane. She needed to hold my arm for support as she walked, and I was always happy to oblige. Mrs. Schneider loved to crochet, and I asked her if she could teach me. I wasn’t very good at it, but she was unfailingly pleasant and patient.

Two of my most vivid memories will always linger. One day, I took a few minutes to play the piano while the residents dined. When I stopped playing, a resident opened the room divider, and asked me to continue because “it was so nice to listen to music while eating.” That sweet woman cured me of my shyness at being seen using the piano by the residents, and I continued playing until lunch was finished when I got a huge round of applause.  I will never forget how those people made me feel. I remember my eyes tearing with gratitude that I was able to give them a small gift of music and they accepted it joyfully. I played often for them after that.

And then, there was the time that I was responsible for escorting Mr. Leach during a fair held near the port. My heart fluttered when I heard several good-natured sailors saying, “Look! There’s a candy striper. Come save us. We’re drowning!” Hey, what self-respecting 16-year-old with a cute uniform could resist that kind of flattery? What I remember most, though, is Mr. Leach standing next to me chuckling.  He got such a kick out of it! Bless his heart!

What happened to that 16-year-old who was mature enough to understand the residents of the retirement home just wanted a little of my time and attention? They wanted to answer the questions I had about their lives and experiences. They just wanted someone to care.

I guess life got in the way. After college, I got a job that was demanding, stressful, and all-consuming. I raised children. I just never seemed to have time for myself much less anyone outside of my family. What a shame. In the end, I lost out on so many moments that might have made an impact on someone.

It took the loss of my husband, retirement, and moving to Myrtle Beach for me to understand that it wasn’t too late for me to try to make a difference in someone’s life and that there were still rich and rewarding volunteer opportunities out there for me.

Quite by accident, I attended a volunteer fair at Surfside Library where I saw a booth belonging to the Palmetto Literacy Council. For some reason, I gravitated to their booth, and then and there I signed up to tutor a child in reading. Later, I did some research on PLC and decided this was where I needed to be.

It’s no exaggeration when I say that my life has changed. PLC is driven by volunteers – many who tutor children and adults, and others who work behind the scenes. I’ve learned so much from them. I’ve seen first-hand their dedication and commitment to our students. 

Some of them have volunteered for many years, and I marvel at their perseverance. All they want is to change the life of a child, to enable that child to succeed – because we all know that reading and writing are the building blocks for a child’s future. What a gift to impact – in small ways or large – that future. As adult volunteers, what we do matters, it really does. Yes, I’d say I’ve found my people, and now I have nothing but time. 

No more 50-hour workweek. No more excuses. 

The Palmetto Literacy Council needs more volunteers. Tutoring in reading or math only takes a two-hour weekly commitment. You’ll have mentors and plenty of support. You’ll meet like-minded people. You won’t regret it. Maybe not now, but later, a child will thank you. And maybe, just like me, you’ll learn that you, too, have found your home.

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